Always After Blood

Readers and viewers like the media because they enjoy feeling they are in the right.

Yitzhak Laor
Yitzhak Laor
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Yitzhak Laor
Yitzhak Laor

In this postmodern culture that uses scandals, gossip, drama, breaking news, commentators and other means of concealing reality, even Ehud Olmert is a good commodity. First the media convicted him, now they're talking up his chances of becoming prime minister again and at the same time they are beating themselves up over their rush to judgment. And even this remorse is being expressed with the help of a choice journalistic commodity: self-righteousness.

Readers and viewers like the media because they enjoy feeling they are in the right - at least compared with whichever bad guy is in the news - and enjoy feeling good when the bad guy gets condemned. First the bad guy was Olmert; now it's Moshe Lador. MK Hanin Zuabi of Balad is, of course, perpetually in the hot seat.

At the same time, the media are also hawking the commodity of victimhood. Olmert has a role to play here too, at least for the moment.

In a market in which self-righteousness, condemnation and criminal conviction are commodities, the justice system remains curled up in a corner, leaving the presumption of innocence to be trampled first. All the same, there are countries, like the United States, in which the presumption of innocence is scrupulously protected - even though the media there are even better than they are here at stage-managing reality. So it makes sense to presume that the Israeli contempt for the presumption of innocence comes from some other place in our lives, and not necessarily from the media.

It would be easy to attribute it to the occupation. For 45 years, tens of thousands of Palestinians have been sentenced to jail by military tribunals that are as strongly correlated with such concepts as law, evidence and the presumption of innocence as the police orchestra's woodwind section is correlated with music.

We could also point to the extent to which the occupation is integrated into our lives: i.e., the number of generals serving as legislators, including leaders of the Shin Bet security service with expertise in "extracting confessions." In short, that which shocks Americans about Guantanamo - its extralegal nature - is prevalent here, and masses of Israelis, of all ranks, are involved in it, from the soldiers at the roadblocks to the members of Knesset.

That said, we would do better to start earlier, to return to the time when Israel was on the path to statehood. For instance, for more than a generation, our leaders enthusiastically condemned the three Revisionists accused of assassinating Labor Zionist leader Chaim Arlosoroff in 1933, even though two were acquitted and the third was released on appeal. At the bottom of that insistence on their guilt lies something impassioned that is tied in with the path to statehood - a time when the adoration surrounding illegal activities played an important role. This concept of tales that must not be told but should nonetheless be admired is something the State of Israel has inherited in all its glory.

The extended transition to a state of law (that still doesn't have a constitution ) was governed by the same people who led pre-state Israel, with all its military organizations, parties and collectives that stood devotedly behind their leaders, as though they themselves were the law, and with the notable absence of institutions of justice.

Israel (Rudolf ) Kastner, a Jewish Mapai candidate accused of collaborating with the Nazis in Hungary during World War II, was assassinated in 1957 by people who saw themselves as the heirs to the pre-state militias. Even though the assassination was hardly the norm, we must not forget how enthusiastic the Israeli public also was in 1986, when the state, acting as a terrorist entity, abducted nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu in Rome and brought him back to Israel for a treason trial.

In short, the State of Israel is teaching its citizens that the law and the presumption of innocence are always conditional; the individual exists only as part of the collective. And the collective excitedly homes in on selected targets: external enemies and internal enemies, always the bad guys at the center of orchestrated moral panic, as though the latest scandal has suddenly revealed the state of the world. The Internet has made the atmosphere of illegality even worse (libel laws seem to have vanished altogether ) and made it possible to defame people covertly.

One of the advantages of a democratic justice system is that it frees most people from having to take on the role of civil servants, from having to act as police officers, as tax assessors, as prosecutors, as judges, as prison wardens. Israeli democracy, though, keeps duplicating the roles its citizens, whether left-wing or right-wing, must play. It turns them into police officers, prosecutors and judges, as well as informers and military recruitment officers, rather than letting them act as human beings who can simply elect or not elect someone like Olmert - in spite of, or because of, his hedonism, if not in spite of, or because of, the pile of corpses he left behind in the two wars he waged during his shortened term of office.

Israelis, therefore, are not really political beings, whether they are left wing or right wing. They are instead people who gossip, or announce, or denounce, or shout out loud "We want some blood," and they do it in front of the television and the tabloids, or in online reader comments and Facebook.



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